New crime stats released this week show that crime in Connecticut is at its lowest since 1967. A new Smart Justice poll shows the majority of Connecticut voters believe it’s important for our state to imprison fewer people, and the overwhelming majority – 87 percent, including 90 percent of Democrats, 90 percent of Independents, and 78 percent of Republicans – say our state should increase funding for programs that help formerly incarcerated people find jobs, housing, and medical care.
When is the last time 87 percent of Connecticut voters agreed on anything, let alone across ideological lines? Political leaders need to sit up, pay attention, and listen to Connecticut voters, who want to see smarter justice policies that make our state safer and stronger.
Smart Justice leaders, formerly incarcerated experts in the criminal justice system, have been rallying around the state with one message: Connecticut voters want smarter justice policies now, and political leaders need to listen to formerly incarcerated people to find smarter justice solutions.
Every time candidates for governor have gathered for a debate – in West Hartford, New Haven, New London, and Storrs – formerly incarcerated people, who are too often unheard and uninvited to political conversations about their own futures, have been there, rallying outside and ready to ask questions within. In West Hartford, Smart Justice was the only issue-focused group there. We’ve had megaphones, banners, and even a marching band. Our ranks have included parents and students, city dwellers and suburbanites, women and men, voters from across the political spectrum, formerly incarcerated people and people whose loved ones have been incarcerated, and victims of crime.
In other words, Smart Justice rallies have looked a lot like Connecticut as a whole.
Formerly incarcerated people are closest to the problem of mass incarceration, closest to the solutions, but typically furthest from the political power. Smart Justice is working to change that by making sure that when political leaders gather for debates about our state’s future, they have to see us and consider our futures as justice-impacted people.
Smarter justice policies work, and people recognize that. Connecticut voters are right to support better solutions that make our state safer and stronger by reducing incarceration.
Criminal justice isn’t a theoretical issue: the justice system affects every taxpayer in our state, and it directly impacts tens of thousands of individuals and families every day. Our state is wasting valuable government resources on an oversized prison population. While the state has made progress, Connecticut imprisons more people per capita than any other state in New England, and more per capita than New York and New Jersey. Connecticut doesn't put enough resources into helping its people reenter society after serving their sentences. The numbers show that formerly incarcerated people in Connecticut between the ages of 20 and 29 were 8 times more likely than average to die within a year of leaving prison. Connecticut's criminal justice system harms families by separating parents from their children, even if they've been convicted of a minor offense. Then, because they have served time, it is difficult for those parents to find work so they can provide for their kids. Over 50 percent of people incarcerated in Connecticut are a caregiver for a child, leaving more than 17,000 children in our state with a caregiver behind bars. And Connecticut's criminal justice system is among the worst in the country when it comes to disproportionately imprisoning minorities. Connecticut imprisons Black people at twice the rate of the national average and Latino people at four times the rate of the national average.
So, I have one question for Connecticut’s politicians: are you going to listen to Connecticut voters by supporting popular Smart Justice policies that help people, or are you going to stick to the same tired old talking points? We’ll be out here, ready to make change.